How the Dust Bowl Made Americans Refugees in Their Own CountryBreaking News
tags: Great Depression, refugees, Dust Bowl
Eight decades ago hordes of migrants poured into California in search of a place to live and work. But those refugees weren’t from other countries, they were Americans and former inhabitants of the Great Plains and the Midwest who had lost their homes and livelihoods in the Dust Bowl.
Years of severe drought had ravaged millions of acres of farmland. Many migrants were enticed by flyers advertising jobs picking crops, according to the Library of Congress. And even though they were American-born, the Dust Bowl migrants still were viewed as intruders by many in California, who saw them as competing with longtime residents for work, which was hard to come by during the Great Depression. Others considered them parasites who would depend on government relief.
As many of the migrants languished in poverty in camps on the outskirts of California communities, some locals warned that the newcomers would spread disease and crime. They advocated harsh measures to keep migrants out or send them back home.
The Dust Bowl that forced many families on the road wasn’t just caused by winds lifting the topsoil. Severe drought was widespread in the mid-1930s, says James N. Gregory, a history professor at the University of Washington and author of the book American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California.
“Farm communities in the larger region were also hurt by falling cotton prices. All of this contributed to what has become known as the Dust Bowl migration,” Gregory says.
The exact number of Dust Bowl refugees remains a matter of controversy, but by some estimates, as many as 400,000 migrants headed west to California during the 1930s, according to Christy Gavin and Garth Milam, writing in California State University, Bakersfield’s Dust Bowl Migration Archives.
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